I had a natural trust and liking for Lincoln, and that was certainly the opposite to what I felt toward Pris. There was something innately good and warm and human about him, a vulnerability. And I knew, by my own experience with Pris, that the schizoid was not vulnerable; he was withdrawn to safety, to a point where he could observe other humans, could watch them in a scientific manner without jeopardizing himself. The essence of someone like Pris lay in the matter of distance. Her main fear, I could see, was of closeness to other people. And that fear bordered on suspicion of them, assigning motives to their actions which they didn’t actually have. She and I were so different. I could see she might switch and become paranoid at any time; she had no knowledge of authentic human nature, none of the easy day-to-day encounter with people that Lincoln had acquired in his youth. In the final analysis, that was what distinguished the two of them. Lincoln knew the paradoxes of the human soul, its great parts, its weak parts, its lusts, its nobility, all the odd-shaped pieces that went to make it up in its almost infinite variety. He had bummed around. Pris—she had an ironclad rigid schematic view, a blueprint, of mankind. An abstraction. And she lived in it. No wonder she was impossible to reach.
In the springtime of 2013, mere days after moving to Taiwan 台灣, I am browsing the many books at the famous Eslite Bookstore 誠品書店 near Taipei 101 in Xinyi District 信義區, Taipei 台北. Most titles are in Chinese, of course, so I amuse myself by surveying the science fiction section. I grew up reading science fiction almost exclusively so I am naturally very curious to see what their selection of translations is like. It is also an opportunity to appreciate a different design aesthetic, as many of the books I see have distinctly different covers from their English language counterparts.
Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.
No one can win against kipple except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It’s a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.
Here they were, on the only planetary surface on which you could walk freely, naked to the wind and the sun, and when they had a choice, they sat in boxes and stared at littler boxes, just as if they had no choice—as if they were in a space station.
I haven’t been reading much in the way of fiction these last few years. I fell out of the habit in university thanks to a crushing course load. More recently, since moving to Taiwan 台灣, I have struggled to find anything interesting at bookstores1, and I stubbornly refuse to order books online. Part of why I read books has to do with the physicality of the act—from point of purchase to the slow turning of pages. I like for the books I read to have a bit of personal history.
When I was in Chiang Mai a few weeks ago I made a point of stopping to browse the used bookstores near the old east gate. For whatever reason the science fiction selection at one of these stores was downright amazing—I could have picked up dozens of interesting books but only returned to Taiwan 台灣 with three.
2312 was definitely the best of the lot. I’m not in the business of writing book reviews so I won’t say too much about it, though I have collected a number of links to build a picture of what it’s about and whether it’s good or not. The Independent has a good review, as does The Guardian, and this interview in Wired is quite fascinating. There are, of course, several things I don’t like about the book—the ending is both anti-climatic and contrived, for starters—but I totally appreciate the post-modern pastiche style made famous in Stand On Zanzibar. If you’re in search of a good modern science fiction book to get lost in, 2312 is not a bad choice.
Soylent has just raised $20 million from one of the biggest VC firms in Silicon Valley—but I would say this story isn’t about the money. It is the announcement on the founder’s blog that interests me more. This modern-day techno-utopian manifesto that reads like something out of one of the great cautionary tales of science fiction. But this isn’t fiction—it’s real life. Does this treatise describe a future we really want to live in?
I don’t have an answer to that question myself. I am too curious about Soylent and yearn to know more about what happens next even if I am not particularly interested in the product. This feeling I have isn’t enthusiasm—it is a kind of lingering dread that has remained with me after letting the words find their mark.
One of my hobbies is musical archaeology: sifting through the archives in search of obscure, overlooked tracks from a bygone era. This virtual crate digging occasionally turns up intriguing results though I seldom post anything about it. People don’t seem to have much time for music sharing these days—and besides, I hardly expect most people to find this stuff interesting.
Even so, I am moved to post about one track I found recently. The Shamen, if you recall, were a late 1980s/early 1990s electronica act responsible for some truly awful hit songs. Unbeknownst to me, they burst their own hype bubble at some point and started pursuing more serious musical explorations, most of which seem to have been completely overlooked and disregarded (as their fans were expecting more radio-friendly garbage and everyone else had already written them off). Anyway, in 1995 they put out an album, Axis Mutatis, that included a number of interesting works, among them this piece of DNA/protein music, in which an actual protein-coding sequence is MIDI mapped to synthesizers to produce the sounds you hear. The description by frontman Colin Angus gives more context:
The track ‘S2 Translation’ was generated from the DNA sequence and the amino acid characteristics of the S2 protein. The time signature of the piece is given by the codon: 3 base pairs per codon gives one codon per bar, hence the time signature is 3/4 or waltz time. The ‘top line melody’ comes directly from the base pair sequence itself (the bases cystosine, adenine, guanine and thymidine being mapped to the notes C, A G and E respectively) while progressions in the bass are reflective of the characteristics of the amino acids which are the result of translation. The number and nature of bass notes per codon/bar were determined by the hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity, ionic charge (positive or negative) and size of each amino acid residue (Proline, for example,which has no characteristics other than its small size, can be identified easily as the bars where the bass line ‘drops out’). The musical output resulting from these rules was further processed by mapping the notes onto different tonalities, both to make the piece more interesting, and to suggest the organisation of the protein molecule into regions of different secondary structure (although since S2 is a membrane protein and thus impossible to crystallise outside the lipid bilayer, this was definitely creative licence).
S2 is the receptor protein for 5-hydroxy tryptamine (Serotonin) and presumably for other tryptamines as well. It is thus one of the most important molecules in the mediation of both ordinary and non-ordinary (or “Shamanic”) states of consciousness, which is why the molecule was chosen for this piece.
This article reads like a great old science fiction yarn from the golden age: an eccentric astronaut, down on his luck, struggles to find his place in the world after returning from space.